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Review: I Got Bit by Talent at This LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is a fantastic musical hybrid of horror, comedy and good ol' fashioned rock and roll. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken crafted the lyrics and music. If those names do not ring a bell you most certainly are familiar with their music from Disney's The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. The show is composed of infectious music full of memorable melodies and lyrics. Spain Park High School Music director Jim Schaeffer powerfully delivers Menken and Ashman's music with a hot student orchestra that is on point.

Set in the 1950's, the play opens on a florist shop in the grittiest part of Los Angeles known as Skid Row. The shop is owned by the abrasive Mrs. Mushnick (Savannah Fike) whose fingers are sore from pinching the pennies of a failing business. Working in the shop is the sweet, self esteemed challenged Audrey (Rachel Ponder) and the meek but mensch Seymour (Will Lamb). In what plays out as a typical plot device, Seymour creates a new hybrid Venus flytrap plant named Audrey 2 (soulfully voiced by Barrett Bennett) to draw new business to the shop. This takes an unusual turn as the plant becomes sentient and frighteningly requires blood to survive. Shenanigans ensue and the conflict rises along with Audrey 2's appetite. The plot grows, as does the body count.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is a classic modern musical that has no comparison. Its macabre tone is a bold choice to put up in high school. Director Eric St. John successfully delivers the balance of romance and dark comedy. His experience directing the show early in his career gives him an advantage in making this show work. The high caliber of talented students at Spain Park inspired him to revisit to the Mushnick and Son Flower Shop. One hurdle he experienced was combining so many elements on stage. "Technically there is a lot to contend with but I love this show and I have dedicated and driven kids to work with."

Will Lamb gives much heart to the kind soul Seymour. It is a dream role he has wanted since he saw the play when he was nine years old, telling his sister that he looked up to Seymour. He remembers saying "wow, I love that guy. He's the lead but he's not perfect. He's kinda awkward, kinda weird but still loveable. " Lamb's voice is strong and full of emotion. A personal highlight for him is being on stage with his friend Rachael Ponder. "We've done shows and been friends for forever. Performing "Suddenly Seymour" with Rachel is my favorite part of the show."

Audrey is an emotional role that requires an actress who is not afraid to get her hands dirty and dive into some dark places. Rachel Ponder does just that with much precision. She channels the poise of Fay Wray and a powerhouse voice that will give you goose bumps. She enjoys bringing her talents to the role. "It's a classic, I was excited to audition. I've never done a character like Audrey before." Her fluctuating character arch and emotions take the audience on quite a journey. She describes "its interesting to play the contrast of being abused and vulnerable in the first act. Then after the song "Suddenly Seymour" everything clicks and she goes from not being valued at all to being worth something."

The larger than life villain of the musical is a carnivorous 12 -foot tall plant named Audrey 2. Puppeteers are Sydney Bedgood, Jacob Salathe and Chase Hawkings. Voiced by the hilarious Barrett Bennett who delivers a powerhouse performance with a soulful voice backed up with both a comedic and sinister tones. Bennett came into the role not knowing anything about the play. "I wasn't familiar with the show but after listening to the soundtrack I thought this is so funky! I can't pass up an opportunity like this." He notes "the most challenging part of the role was learning to function with the puppeteers. Having to cue with the music and act at the same time. It's like mental gymnastics." He delivers a dynamic performance worthy of the gold medal in that event.

The sadistic dentist Dr. Scrivello is played by Max Johnson who gives a performance Steve Martin would give a standing ovation. He gives the character the proper amount of crazy without taking him over the top. He's manic, disturbed, abusive but yet finds a way to be charming. Johnson does a skillful job of juggling all those traits into a fun memorable performance.

The cranky Mrs. Mushnick is played by Savannah Fike. She's brings out an essence of this snarky old woman. One note is her delivery of the character fluctuated at times. There is still time to grow into the role before the show closes in a week. Hopefully she will take advantage of the time to lock her character down. I feel she has a lot more to give that role and can do it by diving deeper into character.

The entire ensemble gives a wonderful performance. Each actor delivers impressive character work.

Last but not least are The Ronettes. The three girls on the corner act as the Greek chorus of the play with a Motown make over. These ladies are some seriously talented singers and actress. They keep the show moving forward by adding some spice to the performance. The program lists five girls but only three were on stage, so kudos to you all. Sapir Blain, Mercedee Gulley, Jazzmin Pride, Anastasia Zellner and Kaylee Hallmon.

In closing a note for the school's administration. Hark and hear this proclamation well. There is one thing that is deadly kryptonite to every musical theater performer and that is a BAD sound system. All of the hard work and rehearsals to deliver a honed performance are for naught if the audience can't hear you sing or act. The school needs a desperate overhaul of your theater sound system. The cast handles this enormous hurdle as true professionals. Their performance shines over the technical issues. Spain Park please put some funds into your theater. The kids deserve better than what they have to work with.

The talented young actors at Spain Park High School deliver a killer performance of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. For those reading who are botany sensitive, no actual plants or vegetables are harmed in making of this musical performance.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS playing at the Spain Park High School Theater. 4700 Jaguar Drive Birmingham, AL 35242 Tickets are $5 students, $10 adults. Showtimes: Fri-/Sat May 6-7 at 2:00p - Fri/Sat May 11 and 12 at 7:00p - Sun May 13 at 2:00p and 7:00p.

Visit sparktheatre.net or call (205) 439-1465 for more info.



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